04 February 2014

Intrapraneurs from Facebook have released a new mobile app called Paper - an application for browsing through news items that are trending today. The news that Facebook released this app is itself currently trending.

Most of the talk is about the interface, gestures, explanation videos, blah blah blah, Flipboard. The company 53 who make the iOS app also called Paper are understandably pissed off. Facebook got some additional press for releasing “a Photoshop for application design” that turns out to be just a Quartz Composer macro.

But these tidbits are all important fodder to get talked about, and then other people will want to talk about what is being talked about.

Raised by machines

Journalists follow trends and write about them and cause those trends to trend even more. Our new Trend Detecting Machines exacerbate these hype cycles even more.

On the content production side there is a whole industry to track, quantize, re-energize and temporily elongate news items in the trendosphere.

One day a news item will be trending even though no one has ever observed it. Which happens all the time the financial markets - the machines simulate greed and fear in their little skulls and then have epic little robot battles on the trading floor.

But “trending” is only the first trench in the war for Narrative Control and the eventual establishment of Public Consensus. Which you are going to need if you expect everybody to use your trendy trend app.

It also depends which trench you are in. While some people moan that their Facebook feed is filled with either babies or self-rightous preaching to the nearest nodes in their political choir, elsewhere somebody is ranting about why everybody won’t shut up about Clojure all the time.

I’ve simplified this discussion to the buzzword “trending”, but your feeds (from various providers) are personalized and multi-variate. We live in a world of competing and inter-dependant algorithms.

"the suspicion arises that technical innovations only refer and answer to each other, and the end result of this proprietry development, which progresses completely independant of individual or even collective bodies of people, is an overwhelming impact on senses and organs in general" - Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media

We need to examine carefully the goal definitions and performance measures for the agents we build. Because we are what we consume, so by extension we are building ourselves. Then, as Kittler says, what we built impacts us. Or deeper yet, we are not really in absolute control of this building process, we are just following the inevitable paths of technlogy.


It has an impact not on just what ends up in our minds, but in how we train our bodies and senses for further interaction with the (non-internet) world.

  • Are we optimizing for clicks ?
  • Ad delivery ?
  • Trend surfing ?
  • Does a temporary rush of views indicate that the content has value or merely that it satisfies a temporary urge ?
  • Which strata and timeframe of your thinking are we satisfying ?
  • Which timeframe of human evolution are we optimizing for ?

Optimizing for clicks ? Maybe the subject has just entered a vacant click trance and is just trying to get their fix with little info-dopamine drips. So your increased clicks don’t mean what you think they mean.

Should we hook up the bio-sensors ? (God please no) Subject has x% normal activity in right supramarginal gyrus indicating increased empathy Great, now we can optimize for empathy.

An Introduction to Friedrich Kittler

Marshall McLuhan said that our technlogies extend our senses. Friedrich Kittler says that the technologies shape our senses and change us.

“Media determine our situation.” Technology extends into us, technology determines our social history.

What is the experience of browsing ?

I’ve discussed how the feeds are constructed. But the experience of browsing and using the app is of equal importance. That is the reality we live in, and it shapes how we react to the messages (content) we are receiving.

What is the experience we have while consuming these articles and pretty images ?

What needs are we satisfying ?

Is the beauty of the interface overwhelming the experience of reading ? (Paging through a well designed glossy magazine is a very pleasureable experience and we are searching for new visceral design experiences with our new media. Beauty of design is genuinely valuable.)

Have you ever been lulled into an information overload trance and then saw an article about some atrocity or famine … and you totally did not react ? Because your senses were overloaded.

The way we consume media affects how we internalize the information it carries.

Further Reading

“Optical Media”:

and the splendid “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter”:

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